Who Wants to Live Forever?
The spec-fic world, be it Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or one of its hybridized relatives, has an obsession with immortality. It’s perfectly natural, of course–death is widely considered to be the most terrifying thing one can be presented with. Humanity and, indeed, all life is obessively preoccupied with not dying; it’s hardwired into our systems. The idea of circumventing death, whether via technology or magic or deals with Below or Above seems glorious, wonderful, even ideal.
In the end, however, it isn’t all that bad to die. I don’t mean that it’s a wonderful experience, per se, or that it should be desired before it’s time, but the idea that we are mortal isn’t such a bad one. Immortality, personally, strikes me as a pretty terrible fate for a human being. This idea isn’t new, of course–various properties have explored the concept in varying amounts of detail. The Highlander television series, in particular, explores the alienation and perpetual lonliness inherent in a never-ending life, as do various vampire stories. They also couple it with a fair amount of glamorous living, richness of experience, wonder, adventure, etc..
We kind of perfer to forget the real cost of immortality, and it isn’t a permanent feeling of ennui. It’s that we will, by all reasonable measures, cease to be human. Hell, we won’t even really be ‘alive’. Think about it–death is one of the defining, constant characteristics of all living things. With the exception of certain cancer cells (which are abominations) and viruses (which aren’t even really alive), everything dies eventually of old age or wear. The idea of permanence–of never needing to contemplate mortality outside of the odd swordfight (which, as Methos shows us in the Highlander TV show, are easy enough to avoid for milennia at a time)–would change you irrevocably. You would not understand things that humans instinctively react to, as you would have no frame of reference. Even if you had one, you’d eventually forget it.
If you can’t die, how do you understand fear? Can you appreciate Shakespeare? Do thrillers remain exciting? Yes, you can understand on some level how mortals might find them thrilling, but you will move from empathy to mere sympathy to simple alienation. It isn’t simply that you can’t have friends for very long before they age and die, it’s that all of your friends suddenly become boring. The only people you can have real, satisfying conversations with are immortals like yourself, and they’re both rare and (in the case of Highlander) want to cut off your head. Vampire societies aren’t much better.
Add to that interpersonal boredom and new level of boredom–running out of interesting things to do. Give somebody eternal youth, and how much can they experience? Travel (sure!), study (yes!), have fun (probably), but just how long do you keep that up? A century? Two? At what point does everything just look like everything else. Furthermore, consider what you no longer can experience–aging, illness, death.
Sounds good, right? Well, not to my mind. Aging, illness, death, decay–these are things all of us go through. They teach us, they build us, they make us who we are. Our emotional and physical connection to death are difinitive for the human experience. What’s more, they are essential to narrative. Every story needs an end; immortals, by their very nature, are robbed of a kind of catharsis their mortal counterparts can only experience through their demise, no matter how it arrives. They trade that in for what–a lifetime of partying, learning to kick ass, and sex with a never-ending stream of comparatively shallow and clueless creatures? An eternity of solitude?
No thanks. I’d rather die.